Saturday, 20 January 2007

Once home to a movie theater, The Varsity has taken on new life as a concert venue. Due to it’s on-campus location and difficulty finding parking, I wasn’t the biggest fan at first. However, having been there for at least a half-dozen shows over the last couple months, the place has kind of grown on me.

Outfitted with café tables, couches, and comfortable chairs, The Varsity feels more like several small living rooms than it does a concert hall. Table lamps and candlelight add a certain homey quality that makes you feel as though you’re among friends. It’s a place that lends itself toward easy-going artists such as Kaki King and Stuart Davis.

The first opener was a group called Jelloslave and I just have to ask “What the fuck?” Is this really what music has come to? In our unending quest for something new are we to believe that the new frontier is cacaphonous, discordant noise? Please, for the love of all that is holy, NO! Two cellos, a pecussionist on tablas, and a drummer, and a percussionist; each apparently playing at different shows. It had that same unrecognizable quality that free-form, acid Jazz has. Completely random sounding, but played with such purpose that it must have been intentional. It wasn’t until their last song that they played something accessible enough that I could get into it.

Next up was Kubla Kahn, a 6-piece rock-n-roll act. Quite simply, they kicked ass. Throughout their eight-song set they put on a solid show with lots of energy and great tunes. People in the audience got up and danced a bit, sang along and generally had a good time. Kubla Kahn was just what an opening act should be, a warm-up for the crowd and a taste of things to come. I’ll have to pick up a CD sometime (they packed up their merch before the end of the Honeydogs set.)

Finally, taking the stage at almost 11:30, was The Honeydogs. Now, I’ve seen them before, and Adam Levy is one of my favorite local musicans; so to say I was looking forward to this show would be a bit of an understatement. I was not to be dissappointed either. Through their 90+ minute set they did a bunch of stuff from the new album, Amygdala, as well as older stuff. They kept up the energy the whole time and really turned it out.

All in all, it was a great evening and well worth it. If you ever get the chance, see them live and say hello to Adam, you won’t regret it.

Monday, 30 October 2006

In the early planning for my 2006 Heartland Tour there were some logistical difficulties. The first Roger Clyne show was in Cleveland, then Detroit, Chicago, and Minneapolis. As a series of one way tickets, or a multi-city trip were prohibitively expensive. I don’t know that the truck would survive a 1000-mile road-trip, so I ruled out that option as well.

Then I discovered that Los Straitjackets were still touring Twist Party and would be in Chicago a few days before the first Roger show. It was a eureka moment. They didn’t have any Twin Cities dates on the schedule, so I quickly changed my plans to a round trip to Chicago, car rental from there to hit Cleveland and Detroit, back in the Windy City for another Roger show, then home for the final show. I’d find things to do with the spare days in between.

Los Straitjackets where playing the Abbey Pub in Chicago. Once I found the place, I learned just how tough Chicago can be. Finding a place to park anywhere in the city is harder than finding something on the U of M campus. It’s all on-street and everything is restricted to permit zones. I got lucky and found something a couple blocks from the club.

Inside, the Abbey is a tiny little place with one bar, an upper level all under barrel-vaulted ceilings. The walls are painted to look (somewhat) like stones from a castle or old church. I was also surprised to learn that Chicago has not yet banned smoking in bars and restaurants. Not that it matters to me since I don’t smoke, but New York has gone that way, I was sure Chicago had too.

The opener was a group called the Patrick Sweeny Band. A three-piece rock-n-roll group that were kicked ass. It was so good that I picked up all both of their CDs plus Sweeny’s solo acoustic CD that he released before forming the band.

After Sweeny and company’s 60 minute set, there was a Halloween costume contest where a guy in a Mexican wrestling mask took first prize. I think it was more for his schitck, rather than the costume. The MC asked each contestant their name and he had this 20 word stream of Spanish that he blurted out. Second was some guy dressed as a “North Korean rocket scientist” and third was this pair of girls dressed in very lame Martian outfits. I thought the 70’s styled “Pimp Daddy” should have taken second with the Korean in third.

Finally Los Straitjackets took the stage and tore it up. They had the World Famous Pontani Sisters and Kaiser George with them, as usual, and the show was just great. I’m so glad I went.

During the show I realized that the Straitjackets work without a set list. Daddy-O announces them in his rapid-fire Spanish and they just lay into each song. I had never actually noticed that before.

The girls were beautiful as always, with their Go-Go/Twist routines and a few new costumes. Kaiser George sang for a few of the songs and play saxophone here and there.

I also noticed that the Straitjackets have a new CD/DVD combo available. It’s called Twist Party and has several of the twist type songs on it like “Peppermint Twist,” “The Twist,” and “Twistin’ Gorilla.” I’ll have to check, but there are a few songs that appear on some of their other albums and quite a few new ones.

I will actually be able to put together a set-list for the night, but it will take some time. I used the video function on my camera to shoot clips during each song. I just have to listen to each one and match it up with the CDs.

Overall it was a great night and Los Straitjackets are still the premier instrumental rock-n-roll band around.

I didn’t stick around for autographs and pictures after the show, but still managed to snap 227 pictures and 38 chunks of video.

Saturday, 29 April 2006

It will come as no surprise to my friends that I’m willing to travel just to see a concert. I hate to travel, mostly because it weirds me out; all the strange people and strange places. I like knowing where I am and having the ability to just do things without having to think about it so much.

But for the right band, I’ll go. In this case it was Massive Attack in Denver. It helps, somewhat, that I have family in the Denver area, so when the opportunity came up, I took it.

You see, Massive Attack doesn’t really tour the United States that much. At least they haven’t in the past. They’ve stated publicly that they don’t care for how our government is handling international affairs and don’t like our drug laws. It seems they like to light a blunt now and again and the US gets a bit too uppity about it for their taste.

Recreational proclivities aside, I’ve always loved Massive Attack. Protection is one of my favorite albums and is in my “Desert Island Top 10.” Their music a sonic treat having just the right mix of a wide variety of elements that make them a chill-out staple.

The Filmore in Denver is a pretty good concert venue. It looks much like a basketball court that has been converted into a concert hall. There’s a huge dance floor in front of the 5′ tall stage and a platform surrounding the main floor that’s about 6′ up.

I got there pretty early, so I managed to get a spot dead center, no more than 20 feet from the stage. Being that close in you’re pretty much guaranteed a good show, but I was about to find out just how good it could be.

The opening act is barely worth mentioning. It was some DJ I had never heard of that just spun records for 60 minutes. It was all house music and nothing else. No light show, no scratching or other DJ trickery, really nothing at all to watch . Just a guy standing there manning a couple turntables.

After the opener was done and his gear cleared, it was time for the main attraction: Massive Attack. I had heard they put on a good show before, but I really wasn’t ready for this.

They had a couple keyboard players, a couple drummers/percussionists, a couple guitars, a bass player, and I swear nearly every singer that’s done vocals on their albums.

The light show was amazing, even in it’s simplicity. They had these pillars, about 20 of them, all across the back of the stage two or three feet apart. Each pillar had 10-12 light bars on it and each light bar had 6 or 8 light positions. It turns out that each light position was actually a set of super-bright, multi-color LED spots. They were so bright they could, and occasionally did, light up the whole place with them. It felt like staring into the sun at times. It created some great lighting effects which I think may have come out in a couple of the the pictures I took during the show.

They also used the LED array to spell out messages, mostly statistics about the war in Iraq; deaths on both sides, monetary costs, things that money could have been spent on to make the world a better place. It doesn’t really come out in the music, but it’s kind of part of who the band is. Besides, as close as I was, you couldn’t really read the stuff.

As for the music itself, it was fantastic. The tour was in support of their best-of retrospective, so they played all of the favorites. Lots of stuff off Protection, 100th Window, Mezzanine, and maybe even a couple from Blue Lines.

What surprised me quite a bit was that some of the songs on Protection, like the title track itself, they had a guy doing the vocals. They had a woman doing vocals for some of the other songs, but there were a quite a few that the guy did. Looking at the credits, it is actually a woman on the album, but it just wasn’t at all what I expected. But it was still a very good thing.

Sorry, I’m not sure what either of their names were.

Another huge surprise was when Elizabeth Fraser from Cocteau Twins came out and did vocals on several songs. That really made for a perfect evening. It couldn’t have gotten any better at that point: my all-time favorite female vocalist (from my all-time favorite band) there, in concert, singing with another top-10 band. I think my smile must have wrapped completely around my head at that point.

As I’ve said before, I’m lousy at keeping track of songs at shows because I tend not to actually know them by their titles. I’m not going to even try in this case.

I took a bit shy of 400 pictures during the show, although with the lighting not many of them are going to turn out. One of these days I’ll get the good ones on-line. There were also no autographs to be had, which is really a shame, since I would have killed for the opportunity to get a picture with Elizabeth Fraser and as well as the guys (3D, Daddy G, and Mushroom – the main people behind the group.)

If you ever get a chance to see them play live, absolutely go. It was one of the best concert experiences I’ve ever had.

Tuesday, 06 December 2005

You would think that, with rock-n-roll’s frantic, chaotic nature, there wouldn’t be much you could depend upon. But then, at least when it comes to the Reverend Horton Heat, you would be wrong. Not does he stop by the Twin Cities about this time every year, but we can also count on him to put on a hell of a show. It’s loud, crowded, and I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

Normally, for a First Avenue show, I’ll skip the opening act, but a friend told me that I should really check them out. It was a group named the Supersuckers and he described them as a “speed-country” act. That really doesn’t do them justice, but if you check out their Web site, you can see the comparison.

Hailing from Seattle, the Supersuckers are Eddie Spaghetti (Edward Daly III) on bass and vocals with Ron “Rontrose” Heathman and Dan “Thunder” Bolton on guitars. They recently hired a new drummer, but he couldn’t make the tour. Then they hired a temporary guy, and he flaked out. Literally, as a last-minute fill-in, Scott Churilla from RHH helped them out. Blasting through an hour-plus set, they kicked ass and got the audience going.

At one point, Eddie looped his bass around the neck of one guitarist (I can’t remember whether Ron or Dan was first.) Holding the guitar out of the way, although still actually worn by the guitarist, they each played the other’s instrument. Eddie on guitar and the guitarist on bass. Then the other guitarist got his chance. Finally it was Scott’s turn. But instead of playing it like a normal bass, Eddie held it over Scott’s kit and Scott he used drumsticks. The whole thing was much cooler than I can describe.

With our primo spots, just left of center, maybe 20 feet out, Todd, Hjalmer and I held our places as the crew turned the stage. Then, shortly after 2300, Reverend Horton Heat took the stage with his intrepid, psychobilly travelers Jimbo Wallace (on the upright bass) and Scott Churilla (on drums). They laid right into a blazing set that didn’t stop for nearly two hours.

From what I can remember, they started with “Big Sky,” “Baddest of the Bad,” “Five-O Ford,” “Can’t Surf,” “Wiggle Stick,” “400 Bucks,” “Callin’ In Twisted,” “Revival,” “and “Indigo Friends.” Then a handful of Christmas tunes: What Child Is This,” “Santa Bring My Baby Back (originally by Elvis),” “Jingle Bells,” and “Run Rudolph Run” (where Rev plays bass and Jimbo plays guitar.)

After that, Rev talked about some guy that posted to their Web site saying that their set list “hasn’t changed in a decade.” The Good Reverend explained that “First off, it changes at least once every 2 years because they come out with a new album.” Second, they used to not bother with set lists at all. Their management said it would be a really good idea to put one together, so they did. And they never follow it. “So if you have an official Reverend Horton Heat set list — it’s wrong.”

As if to drive the point home, they took requests from the audience pretty much the rest of the night. We were treated to (in no particular order): “Big Red Rocket of Love,” “It’s Martini Time,” “Local Gringos Like to Party,” “Marijuana,” “Galaxy 500,” “Bales of Cocaine,” “The Jimbo Song,” “Psychobilly Freakout,” “F’d Up Ford,” “Like a Rocket,” “Theme from A Shot In the Dark” (originally by Henry Mancini), and a couple others I’m sure I missed.

After the show I hung around for a while hoping to get their new Christmas album We Three Kings, signed. I caught Jimbo first, he tends to appear before the others. Then, by pure luck, I saw Scott next — I’ve never seen him come out after a show. Finally Rev came out, signed stuff for a couple other people, then asked if I’d follow him to the merch table and he’d sign mine. No problem to me. I had all the time in the world. Along with the autographs, I got with all three guys too!

Final tally: 2 bands, 3 hours of music, 404 pictures, 3 autographs, 1 sore back (from being so close to the mosh pit and getting shoved around) and 3 hours sleep. A damn fine night, indeed.

I might be able to hold out for a whole year until they return to town.

Thursday, 13 October 2005

For those paying attention it might seem like Mike Doughty was here just yesterday. It’s actually been a couple months, but you’re pretty close. In July he did an outdoor show as part of the Aquatennial Block Party.

For that show, the crowd was packed in like sardines. Most of them were there to see Howie Day. The weather that day was the epitome of the dog-days of summer, or “balls hot” as Mike put it. Having other tickets that night, I didn’t stick around for Day, but Doughty got a 45 minute set and spent at least another couple hours signing autographs.

This time around was different. Doughty was the headliner, so that meant a full show instead of just a short set. Also it was inside First Avenue instead of outside. The weather wasn’t ungodly hot. Although crowded, there was at least a little room to breathe. Indoors on a rainy Wednesday night, there was actually room to breathe.

There were two opening acts. First came Oneida Fink, a singer/songwriter type with a keyboard player. In terms of stage presence and demeanor, it looked like an odd match, but not quite as weird as Excel vs. Isabella Antenna, but it was close. Even thought they weren’t bad, something about Fink’s music fell completely flat with the audience. It struck me as fairly depressing, almost a mopey/weepy quality to it. It just didn’t mesh with the rest of the evening.

The second opener was a woman named Erin McEowen. Armed with just a guitar, this spunky, cutie patootie put on a great set. She had trouble getting the audience engaged, but I think that was holdover from the first act. McEown was an accomplished guitar player with a fantastic voice. Very good stuff, indeed! I had never heard of her before, but based on the crowd size she was fairly well known.

Catching her at the merch table as she was packing up, I told her how impressed I was and that her set was a real treat. We talked for a minute or two and as I bought her CD. As I handed her a twenty, she said she didn’t have change. I told her she could keep the extra $5 if I could get her autograph and a picture. She not only obliged, but when she found change several minutes later, she tracked me down to return the $5. I listened to the CD on the way home and definitely want to hear more.

Minnesota has always been good to Doughty. Every time Soul Coughing played the Twin Cities, it was always packed. Now that he’s gone solo, it’s no different.

Soul Coughing was always very popular in the Twin Cities, typically selling out shows each time they played. By the looks of things, Minnesota is still good to Doughty. By the time he took the stage, the club was pretty packed. It wasn’t the worst I experienced at First Avenue, but I wouldn’t have wanted any more people to jam in there either.

I think his popularity stems from not just his witty lyrics and musical craftsmanship, but how he treats the fans. He always makes it a point to come out and sign stuff after the show. He takes the time to shake hands and talk with people as well as pose for pictures. It’s that extra something that really makes him stand out.

Doughty did most of the songs from Haughty Melodic interspersed with some old Soul Coughing tunes in his 90+ minute set. I was too busy getting pictures and enjoying the show to take notes, so there’s no way I remember the set list. “Looking at the World from the Bottom of a Well” and “Busting Up A Starbucks” were in there, as was “Kansas City” from Ruby Vroom.

Near the end of the show he did a couple cover tunes that just killed me. Although it may help to be familiar with Doughty’s style, but imagine a bluesy, scat-rock version of Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf” and “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers. I kid you not. It was hysterical and the audience even sang along with “Gambler.”

I can’t wait for the next time Doughty comes through town. Heck, I could see doing a road trip to see him again.

Sunday, 25 September 2005

Another busy concert weekend, too busy. Several bands I really wanted to see came to the Twin Cities and I had to choose carefully.

Friday night was easy, that was Greazy Meal at the Fine Line. Tuesday would be Cirque du Soleil with Michelle. Saturday turned out to be a problem. Three of my favorite acts, Sigur Ros, Kaki King, and Lavay Smith, all had shows the same night. They were playing the State Theater, the Cedar Cultural Center, and Rossi’s Blue Star Room respectively.

As far as clubs go the Cedar is somewhat lacking, but The State Theater ain’t too shabby. Throw Rossi’s into the mix, and the small, intimate jazz club wins easily. I think it would be nearly impossible to have a bad show there.

I saw Lavay fairly recently, back in June when I was in San Francisco. Kaki had been here in March, but played a very short set. It’s been over a year since I saw Sigur Ros.

In my head I knew that I’d enjoy myself regardless of which show I ultimately chose, but that really didn’t make it any easier.

Lavay would be back in the area come November and Kaki was playing in Duluth a couple days later, so Sigur Ros seemed the way to go. Unfortunately, when it came time to buy tickets, I could only find nosebleed seats. Delighted, my attention turned back to the Lavay Smith show. I figured I’d see Greazy Meal on Friday, Lavay on Saturday, hit Duluth to catch Kaki King on Monday, then drive back Tuesday to see Cirque. If I didn’t collapse from exhaustion, I’d be back to work on Wednesday.

When it came down to concert night, there was no way to make the Duluth plan happen. But I still had Lavay, so everything would be OK.

When I had made my reservation I asked for something in the 2nd row of tables. They didn’t tell me of any problems at the time, so I figured it would be no big deal. Unfortunately, when I got to the club they gave me a table basically just inside the door. The sight lines were still pretty good, but it was a let down after sitting up front in San Francisco. A quick conversation (and perhaps some begging) with the hostess didn’t pay off. She wanted to help but there wasn’t much she could do until after the main dinner seating. She promised to keep me in mind and see what could be done.

20 minutes later, the hostess kept her promise and I was rewarded. My new seat was much better: Right. Up. Front.

As with the San Francisco show, the band did a two song warm-up. They started with Illinois Jacquet’s “Symphony In Sid” and “Tickle Toe” by Count Basie. After that, Lavay came out and did “Busy Woman’s Blues,” “Daddy,” “Kansas City Boogie,” “Need A Little Sugar In My Bowl,” “Big Fine Daddy,” “‘Deed I Do,” “Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good To You?,” and “Walk Right, In Walk Right Out.”

Between sets I got a chance to talk with a few people in the band. First was Lavay herself. She didn’t know why, but my face was vaguely familiar. When I explained that I had flown 1500 miles to see her show back in June, she lit up. I added that she had been kind enough to sign both of my CDs, but I was star-struck. I completely forgot to ask for a picture with her. She said “that’s the sweetest thing!” and gladly helped me correct the error.

Next I ran into the piano player/band-leader. He recognized me right off, but just that it was from a previous show. Again with the 1500 mile story and I asked when the new album was due. “December, maybe January depending upon packaging. It’s mixed and ready to go, but there are a couple details to work out.” I don’t want to wait that long!

Finally I caught the trombone player, Danny Armstrong. In June I had made a point of introducing myself simply because we have the same last name. Hey, it was a good opening. He made my night when he took one look at me and said “Cuz?” something we had joked about in June.

After the break, it was another two song warm-up: “Dizzy Atmosphere” and I think one called “Doolittle.” I missed the title of Lavay’s first song, but it was a Billie Holiday number. Then came “Don’t Mean a Thing,” “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans, ” “What a Little Moonlight Can Do for You,” “Evil Gal Blues,” “Happy Birthday” for two people in the audience, “Everybody’s Talkin’ ‘Bout Miss Thing,” “”On the Sunny Side of the Street,” “Jumpin’ In the Mornin’,” and “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

Through the whole show I was grinning like a fool, clapping and singing along, totally into it. Along the way I realized something. Even though I listen to tons of music and enjoy a wide variety of stuff, most of it failed to excite me any more. But Lavay and the boys truly brought joy, no exuberance, into my life. They are the first band in a very long time that has done that for me.

Afterwards I talked to Danny again and caught Chris to thank them for a great show. Chatting a bit longer I asked, “What are the odds I could get a picture with the whole band?” To my surprise Chris said it shouldn’t be a problem if I can wait around for a while.

That’s how I found myself hanging out with the band after most everyone else had gone. I got to talk with most of the guys as regular people. I know they’re just like the rest of us, but when it’s a person or group you really admire, there’s still something exclusive about it. I don’t usually get a chance at this kind of thing, so it was oh so cool!

Eventually a couple of the guys decided to call it a night. I caught Chris again to say goodnight so he wouldn’t run around looking for me later. Before I could tell him not to worry about it he hollered “Hey! Michael, the guy in the hat here, wants to get a picture with the band.” 60 seconds later everyone had gathered and one of the two remaining patrons snapped the picture.

I didn’t sleep at all that night I was so charged up. Their November show is the same night that G. Love plays First Avenue. I didn’t know what to do before, but now I know exactly where I’ll be: at Rossi’s to see Lavay Smith again.

Saturday, 24 September 2005

Greazy Meal’s heyday was in the late 90s and early 00s when they put out a couple CD’s and became the house band at The Cabooze. Since then, the band has dispersed a bit, drawn into careers and day-jobs. One does studio work in California while another lives in Germany. The rest are in the music business in one way or another, either production, studio work or touring with national acts. As you can imagine, getting 8 people together to do a show can be a bit tricky.

I know three of the guys, Jim Anton, Ken Chastain, and Tom Scott from a prior band, Beat the Clock. A friend of mine was their sound man, which is how I first found out about them. They toured the Midwest and the local bar scene in the early 90s. I managed to catch nearly every show they did in the Twin Cities. I came to know the guys decently enough and always loved their stuff, so you’d think I’d have caught their new band too. Such is not the case.

This weekend they did a rare, two-show run at The Fine Line and I was not going to miss it. Greazy Meal always packed the house and got great reviews back when they were playing The Cabooze, so it was bound to be a good show.

I was worried for a while. Saturday night already had too many things to choose from (Sigur Ros, Lavay Smith, Kaki King, my high-school reunion), but it all worked out. Greazy Meal’s first show was Friday night and I had it open.

The opening act was a group called either Wisley or the Willy Wisely Trio (although there were five people on stage,) I heard them referred to as both. He did a good job and I enjoyed his set. Unfortunately the crowd was still pretty thin at that point, so he really didn’t get the response he deserved.

After a quick turnover, Greazy Meal took the stage in front of an enthusiastic audience.

If you’re into the Twin Cities music scene you’ll appreciate their pedigree. Alphabetically there’s Dave Anania on drums, Jim Anton on bass, Tommy Barbarella on keyboard, Ken Chastain on percussion, Julius Collins on vocals, John Fields on guitar, Brian Galagher on sax and flute, and Tom Scott on other sounds and vocals.

Jim, Ken, and Tom were in Beat the Clock, the rest of the guys would join them on stage every so often. That experience pays off in how easily they can share the stage. It helps to create a great vibe that resonates with their 70s and 80s soul/funk/rock sound.

Early in the show I noticed there was a couch on stage. I didn’t understand at first, but it’s called the “Davenport of Love.” Situated immediately in front of the drum kit, audience members are welcome to come on stage and take a turn. Too self-conscious to get up there myself, I’m told you can feel each beat down to your bones.

Right away, and through their whole show, Greazy Meal’s energy fed into the crowd. It created a Friday-night, party atmosphere that felt like it could go all weekend. Alas, after a 2½ hour show, it had to end.

I met Willy Wisley after the show while he was talking to my friend John. I stopped on my way out to say good-night to John and he introduced himself. He came across as a very nice guy, down to earth and very accessible. It’s little things like that that can get someone to check out your band while they may not have before. I know it worked for me and I’m definitely going to check out his music. Based on what I saw on stage, I don’t think I’ll be disappointed.

Hopefully it won’t be an entire year until Greazy Meal’s next show. Regardless of when it is, you can bet I’ll be there! After all, I need to take my ride on the Davenport of Love.

Thursday, 21 July 2005

I’m not sure how, but a friend of mine discovered that Nickel Creek was having a special pre-release show for their new CD, Why Should the Fire Die? The show was being sponsored by a local radio station and was less than a week away.

Per must have called everyone; the radio station, the band’s management, and possibly the band’s parents, trying to get tickets. Around mid-week a friend of his, someone who works for Clear Channel, came through—big time.

The show was Monday evening and Per’s wife had someone visiting from out of town and couldn’t go. That left me in the fortunate position as his +1 on the guest list. Even though my mom and step-father were arriving from Kansas City that afternoon, but there was no way I was going to miss this once in a lifetime opportunity. I’ll admit, I felt a little guilty, but luckily my mom was understanding and didn’t make a big deal out of it.

It was my first time at Rossi’s Blue Star Room, so I didn’t really know what to expect. It’s billed as a Jazz club and turned out to be pretty small, seating maybe 200. That said, it really worked for an accoustic act like Nickel Creek and helped to add to the insider/exclusive vibe I was feeling.

We managed to get a table dead center, no more than 30 feet from the front. The sight-lines were perfect, short of sitting on the stage. When the band started at 1800, I could barely contain myself.

For the main part of the show they played the new album, in order, live. Like most CDs these days, some songs were better than others, but on the whole it was great. The show was enchanting, delightful, intimate, and super cool. My favorites were “When In Rome,” “Anthony,” and “Scotch and Chocolate.” The latter being a rock-out jam by way of acoustic folk. “Anthony” is great, with it’s lilting ukulele melody and Sara singing about a guy that ran away—the fool!

The new album has a couple tracks that sound almost like straight rock, but they show progression and still work in the context of their music. I love Sara’s voice, so I’m delighted that she sings on a few more tracks this time. “First and Last Waltz” is quite nice, and “Stumptown” kicks it bluegrass style.

Once they finished playing the new album, they went right into “Smootie Song” (my personal favorite from This Side), then took a quick break followed by a 5 or 6 song encore from from earlier releases.

The final set-list works out to “When in Rome,” “Somebody More Like You,” “Jealous of the Moon,” “Scotch & Chocolate,” “Can’t Complain,” “Tomorrow is a Long Time,” “Eveline,” “Stumptown,” “Anthony,” “Best of Luck,” “Doubting Thomas,” “First and Last Waltz,” “Helena,” “Why Should the Fire Die?,” “Smoothie Song.” After that, my memory gets a little hazy. I know they did “Up On Cripple Creek” (by The Band), and I think “House of Tom Bombadil,” “Reasons Why,” “The Fox,” “Green & Gray.” I’m not certain on those last few, and I know there are a couple missing, but at least it’s close.

After the show, Per and I hung around for a while hoping they’d come out and visit. About 15 minutes later, after most of the audience had left, we were rewarded. First Sara, then Chris, and finally Sean appeared and were kind enough to sign autographs and pose for pictures.

It was a bit weird leaving the club so early, just after eight. Returning to sunlit streets was a bit of a shock after spending the last few hours inside a dark club. That said, it was a damn fine evening and I can’t thank Per enough for the opportunity to experience it.

Sunday, 17 July 2005

Previously , the only prior exposure I had to Junior Brown came by way of a Gap jeans TV spot several years ago. No, really! Even though the commercial gave just the tiniest taste, I was drawn in by his rock n’ roll with a twang as well as his combo standard/steel guitar, “Big Red.”

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve never been big on country music, but this didn’t fit what I normally considered part of the genre. There was something about Junior Brown that I really liked. According to his Web site, he hears that more than anything else. Still, it hadn’t been enough to buy any of his CDs.

So with no real information to go on, I kind of bought the ticket on impulse. I figured that, if nothing else, it would get me out of the house for a few hours. And, who knows? I might even discover something good. On my way home, I bought two CDs, Greatest Hits and Down Home Chrome. The former because it could give me a glimpse into several albums worth of his work, the latter because I liked the title and the cover.

No amount of research, certainly not as limited as a single TV commercial two CDs could prepare me for what I was about to see—one really good show. I got there about 5 minutes before the show and was a bit worried, there weren’t very many people there at all. It was just going to be Brown the whole night, no opening act. And surprisingly, the stage was even more sparsely populated than the audience; just a simple drum kit, plus a few microphones and amplifiers.

Junior took the stage with a drummer and bass player and just laid into it. Seeing “Big Red,” his custom-built guit-steel, in pictures or on TV was one thing. To see it in person, or more importantly to see Junior Brown play it, was another thing entirely. His undeniable talent on the guitar, coupled with his baritone voice, and capable songwriting made for a great time.

The only song I recognized with any certainty was “Highway Patrol.” Based on audience reaction, he did several other hits through the evening, but there’s no way I could list them.

I never figured out why Brown had a cargo blanket over his stage amplifiers. Every so often he’d reach underneath and tweak a knob or two. If I had the chance, I’d ask him about it, but it didn’t really matter. The music was more than enough to keep my attention. I found myself really getting into it, constantly surprised by Brown’s guitar work and musicianship.

After the show I stuck around hoping to get an autograph. Eventually, one of the bouncers said Junior was out in the tour bus and probably wouldn’t come back into the club. Reluctantly, I went outside and found a few other fans waiting. Junior never did come back out. In that heat I don’t blame him. Luckily, one of his roadies was nice enough to take stuff onto the bus and get it autographed for us.

The final tally was 3 musicians, 90 minutes of kick-ass music, 290 pictures, and 1 autograph.

Happily, from humble beginnings came one hell of a night. I guess it’s best described by using a quote from Brown’s Web site: his music “combines the soul of country, but the spirit of rock-and-roll.” No doubt.

You can bet I’ll go see him again if I’m get the chance.

Saturday, 16 July 2005

I first ran across Esthero when she appeared on a Blue Man Group album, of all things. She did a cool version of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” on their release The Complex.

Then, completely by happenstance, I saw her on one of the late-night talk shows. She did the title song from her latest CD, Wikked Lil’ Grrrls. It’s a sassy little number and I liked it immediately, so when I learned she was coming to town, I didn’t think twice about picking up a ticket.

Later I discovered that Mike Doughty from Soul Coughing was going to play the Aquatennial Block Party. At that point I knew it was going to be a busy night. I’d try to see the Doughty show, then hit the Fine Line. The schedule would be tight, but it would all work out.

And work out it did. I saw Doughty and made it to the Fine Line near the end of the first opening act.

The first guy, I didn’t catch his name, but he wasn’t right for the show. He was a singer/songwriter/guitar act that struck me as whiney and a real downer.

The second opening act was a woman named Toya Alexis. I was worried when she took the stage. It was just Alexis and a guy playing acoustic guitar. To my surprise, she turned out to be something else. What an incredible voice!

On one song, I think it was “Baby”, she did about half of it as herself, then briefly as each of several well-known singers like Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, and Ertha Kitt. There were one or two others, but I don’t remember for sure. It was both hilarious and stunning at the same time.

Then Esthero herself took the stage…with two backup singers and an 8-piece band comprised of a drums, percussion, a flute/saxophone player, trumpet, trombone, bass, guitar (who played with Toya during the opening act), and keyboards.

Based on what I could find on-line, the set list was “Wikked Lil’ Girls,” “Breath from Another,” “OG Bitch,” “Country Livin’,” “Swallow Me,” “Everyday is a Holiday with You,” “If Tha Mood,” “Superheros,” “Bad Boy Clyde,” “Half A World Away,” “Gone,” “My Torture,” “Fastlane,” “We Are In Need of a Musical Revolution,” “Joey,” “Amelia,” and “Wish You Away.” There were a couple other songs too, but I’m not even sure the list above is entirely accurate.

At one point, between songs, Esthero called out a guy because he was just way too loud. “If I can hear you better than I can hear myself, you’re too f’in loud!” Then she strongly suggested he buy her a shot from the bar. Sheepishly, he complied, but Mr. Loudmouth didn’t quiet down much afterward.

After a short break, Esthero and her brother, J, came out to do “Joey” and a new song she hadn’t practiced with the band. Then everyone came back out to do the last couple songs.

After the show, both the dummer and the trombone player took time out to talk for a few minutes. Both were very cool, but couldn’t stay long as they had to pack their own stuff and head to Chicago for a show the next night. When the trombonist saw my camera he asked if I had gotten a couple flash pictures. (I had.) The bell on his horn was painted with an orange, red, and white flame-ish pattern. The rest of the instrument was mostly white rather than a normal yellow-brass color. It took on an unearthly glow when the flash hit it.

Esthero didn’t come out after the show, but her manager or assistant took stuff backstage to get it signed. Some of the other folks waiting got brought back to see Esthero, but I got skipped. I think I’m too introverted and therefor not pushy enough to have gotten a behind-the-scenes meet-and-greet. Clearly it’s something I need to work on.

The tally: 90+ minutes of music, 1 musical discovery (Toya Alexis), 308 pictures, and 1 autograph. All on top of the earlier show. A damn fine night indeed.